Again our panel consists of myself (@ccb1212), Pat Eyler (@gnupate), Wes Brown (@wesbadia), Matt Montgomery (@TheCrossbarRSL) and James Rust (@JamesRust15).
I am very interested to see how RSL will handle these teams as far as the current fan base is concerned. If the RSL front office is smart about it (and those guys are pretty smart) they would promote these two teams to the current fan base. There are probably some fans that won't really care but I think many fans would. We have a pretty fanatic fan base that likes to know everything that is going on. Having these games (along with the reserve league) streamed would be great. It would also be great for RSL to have friendlies with these teams both home and away. Those games are good for both the fans and the players.
Giving fans awareness to the future stars of the team is only a good thing. Lets use Jordan Allen as an example. I am extremely excited for this upcoming season to see how he does. Why is that? It is because I have already seen him play in reserve games and he blew me away. But if you ask the majority of RSL fans, they probably have no idea who he is. By giving exposure to both the PDL and USL Pro teams, fans will get to see these young kids ahead of time. And by the time these kids reach the main team, there will be a greater excitement from the fans to see them play. They will already have a connection with these players. Right now I have no connection with Ryan Neil. I have never seen him play. But I do have a connection with Jordan Allen.
I think this is a huge point. I try pretty hard to track the academy, but there's only so much information available. If RSL can get more content online about the various teams in the development pipeline, I think that would be a huge win for the team and for the fans. I might not travel to San Diego, Ogden, or Casa Grande very often, but I'll certainly take some time to watch streamed/archived games, interviews, and the like. It would be really cool to see a recurring spot on "On Frame" that track developing players.
Very good thoughts on the effects of these moves with the fan base. I like what Charles said about not feeling a connection to Ryan Neil, but having seen Jordan Allen play he feels more excited about the kid's potential with the first team.
On this topic (and relating it back to the placement of USL Pro/PDL teams in certain markets), I believe it's important to establish these teams in areas that both take advantage of the existing influence of RSL in those areas (demand for the product), but also in areas that most identify with the product that's being offered (club culture vs market culture). Charles' comment about Boise being demographically and culturally similar to SLC is a great reason for it to be a solid option for being brought under the club umbrella. San Diego? Beyond the competitive challenges I've mentioned before, how does RSL's SLC fan base identify with a market like San Diego? Conversely, how does the market receive a product that has aspects of culture that they might not identify with in all regards? Some things like "The Team is the Star" is easy to get on board with. It makes sense. Same for the style of game we play. But (and this is a touchy subject, so I tread on eggshells here), as a non-LDS who grew up in a state with little LDS presence, I know the stigma that many people outside of Utah have adopted regarding both the LDS church or anything regarding the state of Utah in general. The openness in SoCal might be such that it makes for an easy translation, and indeed San Diego adopting RSL's philosophy and ownership models is more likely to happen than RSL fans (whatever stripe they are) to adopt an area of the country just because the Real name is associated with the team. How have CD Guadalajara fans adopted Chivas USA? Or Man City adopted the club's efforts in NYC? I see the translation this way as a major challenge if the product the club is offering is to remain consolidated and branded in a way that has a true "club" feel to it, i.e., contiguous in nature.
How fans respond to these happenings is, IMO, going to be largely based on how they identify with the markets they're offered in. Pat: would you be more willing to travel to SD or Boise to see a D3 game? I pose that question to any RSL fan looking to see more of their club's talent. Personally, it's a much easier sell for me to go to Boise (a place that is culturally similar to the area I live) than to SD (which, honestly, is a little intimidating, even for someone who grew up in the hustle and bustle of the east coast). I'm not a native of Utah, nor am I LDS, so I cannot comment with any authority on how those parts of the RSL fan base will respond to a team located in SD. But my speculation is that more of a connection to the lower tiers of the club would be made by fans if they were given an outlet that they can identify with.
Well I can’t speak for anyone else, but I probably wouldn’t go to San Diego just to catch a D3 game. If I were there for some other reason, I’d love to catch a game while I was there. I might even arrange a trip there to make catching a game easier. Boise would be easier to make a trip to, but I’m less likely to travel there for business, so I’m probably less likely to see a D3 game there.
On a micro level, I'd want to be able to see my club's talent as they rise through the levels. That's one reason why I think creating an SLC academy is important to the future of the organization. Like Pat said, it's hard enough keeping tabs on things in AZ with the academy. Having that closer to home is going to make those young players so much more accessible to fans. I, for one, would be willing to attend the USSDA games to see the development of our youth if it was closer to home. Same goes for PDL. Ogden (or even Provo) is not far for anyone in northern Utah to commute to see our players play. A 40 min drive north or south is minuscule. As an aside, it'd go a long way to uniting the region more under the banner of RSL. Again, I may be odd man out, but I certainly don't mind making that commute for a team I love. And, as an Ogdenite, I can attest to the arm’s length distance Salt Lakers seem to keep us. Uniting the various cities could go a long way to growing the brand as a whole and the larger cultural connectedness of the region.
In the end, having these teams close enough to offer players easy transition between each but far enough away in order to capitalize on newer markets is going the be the trickiest challenge for the club. Existing fans should be able to adopt these new teams as their own. But I see challenges for them as well especially if they're in areas that make it difficult to "keep tabs on", just like RSL-AZ. It creates a disconnect in the progression of talent through the whole club, and I see that as potentially damaging in the long run to both fans and club alike. Provided local, existing fans get the taste of younger academy players early, I believe those fans will follow those players regardless of where they end up (college, another MLS team, an international club). It is just like how RSL fans will still follow where Kreis is and how he's doing with NYCFC. But creating the opportunities for fans to see those players early, and making it as accessible as possible is going to be the determining factor. The more players given these opportunities closer to "home", the more fan support they'll receive as they progress their careers.
It's hard to disagree with most of what's been said — careers, homes, a clear line of development — in providing a clear delineation of development through the establishment of USL Pro and PDL sides. Whether Salt Lake City would actively support it is something worth considering, and whether something of that nature might fare better in one of our neighbors 40 minutes in either direction is difficulty to say definitively.
From a purely selfish perspective, I'd like to watch more soccer, and I'm certain I'm not the only one. But the baseline on which we have to draw doesn't lend us much in the way of evidence — we've had fair crowds for some reserves outings, but never at enough strength as to seem self-sustaining. Importantly, though, we're in a state of transition (when aren't we, though?) and as we fill up Rio Tinto Stadium week after week, we might find the desire for either more soccer — or at least more opportunities for soccer — to be palpable. Would it be enough to keep a small club moving here? I hope so.
I think a lot of great points have been made already and it is very clear as to the importance of being involved with a PDL and USL Pro team. Young players simply don't get the opportunity for game reps during the season to sharpen their skills quick enough to make it big time. I agree with the concept of positioning these lower level teams in areas where RSL fans can track what's happening and develop an interest in the up and comers. The second string quarterback is always a popular guy among fans and so would be the case for these young players who fans would already have an idea of because of exposure at the lower levels. Just like the Jordan Allen example given.
One question that comes to mind, and I am not sure I have the answer for it, is cost? What kind of expenses are going to be associated with being involved with a PDL and USL Pro Team? Dell Loy Hansen is a business man, not a sports man. He is in this to make money and that is the bottom line, even at the expense of winning. We saw how things were carried out with Jason's contract and I am afraid we will see the same at the end of this season with Garth. San Diego has been mentioned as a questionable destination. I agree with the concerns there and also agree that Ogden, Boise along with others would be better options. It's complete speculation but Dell Loy owns a home along with many businesses and real estate in San Diego. That might be the reason for it being a candidate. Don't know, but thought I'd throw it out there.
To be honest I don’t think I would travel to either San Diego or Boise for the sole purpose seeing one of these teams. But like Matt I would like to watch more soccer. I think it is vital that wherever these teams are located that their games would be streamed on the main RSL website. The team needs to give the fans an easy way to see these matches and to see these players.
Can a team be supported enough here in the valley? I think that it probably could. It really could be a way to build the soccer culture here in Utah even more. In the early years of RSL they used to give many tickets away. They did this just to build the fan base. If RSL had a PDL team here they could have very inexpensive tickets. Then they could open it up to things like the Pass of All Passes to drive up attendance even more. And other things like radio promotions could get more people in the stands. By doing this you are going to get more people to go check out a soccer match. And my guess is that some of those people will turn around and buy tickets to an RSL match. These things would get more people in the stands to go along with all the RSL faithful that would probably also attend.
To go along with James’ point, by having a team here the overhead would be low. They could play their matches at Rio Tinto and also use the practice field. That would save a lot of the costs that a team located elsewhere would have. It is an interesting thought and I am very curious to see what direction the team takes.